In my opinion, sculling is probably one of the most underrated drills found in a swimmers toolbox. A strong stroke starts with a strong catch in the water. A strong catch is a direct result of proper hand position and feel of the water. Sculling forces you to take note and focus on the pitch of your hand and how it moves through the water. It also helps build forearm strength, which means more propulsion in the water. The focus of these drills is to help you learn to feel the water and create an understanding of how changing the pitch of the hand, even slightly, transmits into a more efficient and powerful catch.
Think of your hand as a paddle. If you want to move in any specific direction, you must change the pitch of the paddle in a way that would allow for this movement. You will NOT go fast doing these drills correctly. This is sculling, NOT pulling! Keep your kick minimal and concentrate on propulsion just from the scull. Your hands and forearms will begin to feel the focus. I recommend using a pull buoy for these drills to isolate the movement and allow you to focus on your hands without your hips/feet sinking.
While I don’t typically recommend a snorkel for swimmers working on developing proper technique (I usually like to wait until they reach the point of refining technique) as it does not allow you to develop proper breathing, if you have a snorkel utilizing it for breathing during sculling will maximize the drill without affecting your body position. If you don’t have a snorkel, just lift your head either in a simulated race breath (to the side) or out front and quickly put it back down. Make sure your head and body return to correct neutral position, even with the surface again.
1. Pull Buoy
2. Snorkel (if you have one)
I will present you 5 different positions for the sculling drills. It is difficult to see the drill from a head-on video, so I will only be showing footage of the drill from underneath. The first four drills are a head-first lead, the last is a feet-first lead. Remember, these drills are meant to be completed slow. You should feel the ‘pressure’ on your hands and forearms.
Position 1 – Top “I” Position
In this position, you will start with hour hands out straight above your head as though you were creating an “I” with your body. Move your hands in a sweeping in-and-out movement. When sweeping out, your hands are in a thumbs down, pinkies up position. When sweeping in, your hands are in a thumbs up, pinkies down position.
Notice how my hands are not sweeping wide – they are moving about a foot apart and coming back together, not moving much outside shoulder width.
Position 2 – Top “Y” Position
In this position, you will start with hour hands out straight above your head as though you were creating an “Y” with your body. Move your hands in a sweeping in-and-out movement similar to the “I” position. Unlike the “I” position, the hands stay wide in the “Y” position. Notice how they do not come back together like the previous position, they stay wider than shoulder width.
Position 3 – Side Position
In this position, you will start with your hands bent at your shoulders as though you were creating a “t” with your body. Your humerus should be parallel to the bottom of the pool with your radius/ulna and hands perpendicular to the bottom. Similar to the first two positions, you will move your hands in a sweeping in-and-out movement. Notice how my hands are moving from side to side, not forward and backward. The movement should only be about 5-6 inches to each side.
Position 4 – Bottom Position
In this position, start with your arms straight and hands at your side. In this position, you want to think about pushing the water out and back. This represents the finish of your stroke. Your hands should remain close to your thighs and hips as you move the water from underneath your hips, out, and behind you. When sweeping out and away from your hips, your palms face the sky. When sweeping in, rotate your hands towards each other with your thumbs down.
Position 5 – Back Position (feet first)
In my opinion, this one is the hardest. If you do not see movement right away, don’t worry, just keep practicing. This is performed just like the first position – the Top “I” Position – but with your feet first. You may not move in a straight line either, that’s ok! This position is meant to help strengthen your forearms. If you are having trouble with your arms above your head, try it with your hands at your side.
10 x 25 @ :15 R rotating through each position twice!